US carries out rare strike against al-Qaeda in Syria

An F/A-18F Super Hornet prepares to make an arrested landing on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower after a mission in support of Operation Inherent Resolve

US forces carried out a rare strike against al-Qaeda in Syria on Sunday, killing eight commanders.

US Forces conducted the strike against al-Qaeda in Syria (AQ-S) leadership at a training facility near Aleppo Province on June 30, 2019, the US Central Command (CENTCOM) confirmed on Sunday.

“This operation targeted AQ-S operatives responsible for plotting external attacks threatening U.S. citizens, our partners, and innocent civilians,” CENTCOM said.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), the fighters were affiliated with Hurras al-Din, a group that is headed by Abu al-Humam al-Shami, an al-Qaeda senior operative who fought with Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan.

The coalition strike hit a meeting of the organization in the Rif Al-Muhandiseen suburb in the western countryside of Aleppo.

In the strike, at least six commanders of non-Syrian nationalities were killed.

According to the US military, northwestern Syria remains a safe haven for al-Qaeda to “actively coordinate terrorist activities, including planning attacks throughout the region and in the West.”

The Pentagon said it will continue to target Islamic State and al-Qaeda leaders in coordination with their allies and partners “to prevent both groups from using Syria as a safe haven.”

Charles Lister, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, on Twitter said that his sources confirmed that figures of Hurras al-Din in Idlib and Aleppo “have on [at least] several occasions raised the importance of re-asserting attention on attacking the West.”

It is not the first time the US has carried out an airstrike in the northwest of Syria against al-Qaeda targets.

On March 17, 2017, the US also carried out an airstrike in the al-Jinah village of Aleppo, targeting an alleged al-Qaeda meeting and killing dozens.

However, the US has normally remains focused on the northeast of Syria, backing the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), while Russia dominates the airspace in the northwest, in support of Damascus.

Idlib was declared a de-escalation zone in an agreement reached last September between Turkey and Russia.

Despite this, there have been regular clashes between Islamist rebels and the regime in Idlib sincr Damascus launched an offensive in April.

They have targeted Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and other rebel groups in northwestern Syria.

Washington has strongly protested strikes that have caused the deaths of hundreds of civilians and the displacement of thousands.

Some three million civilians now live in Idlib, many of whom were displaced from other de-escalation zones in the country.

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